SFRevu Likes “The Shipwright”

sfrevu-logo-bkgclr-448da6 has had a read of Abyss & Apex #57 and they like what they’ve read, including my story, “The Shipwright”:

In a world where ships were beasts, the job of the shipwright is to control them with his mind. Telig has done well with female ship-beasts but he has been kidnapped by pirates to run a man-o’-war, what a female ship-beast becomes after the Change. The pirates are seeking the man-o’-war they call Leviathan. Telig, not able to control this ship-beast, must find a way to control the more powerful Leviathan. Interesting turn on the classic sea adventure.

Not bad.

A special congratulations to C. Erickson, who garnered special praise for her story–her first sale!–in the issue. Well done!

– S.

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Why You’ll Never Look at Little Red Riding Hood the Same Way Again


Okay, so this is COOL. Using techniques developed for the study of evolutionary biology, scientists have traced certain folk stories back to the Bronze Age.

Stories, in their telling and retelling, accumulate changes in plot, characters, and settings. In fact, they behave a lot like living organisms, which build up mutations in the genes that they pass to successive generations. And now scientists can reconstruct the relationships between versions of a story using the same tools that evolutionary biologists use to study the change over time in species. They can compare different versions of the same tale and draw family trees–phylogenies–that unite them. They can even reconstruct the last common ancestor of a group of stories.

Little Red Riding Hood, for example, can be traced back to a single origin, 2,000 years ago, somewhere between Europe and the Middle East. Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin were first written down in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively, but they are actually between 2,500 and 6,000 years old.

How cool is that!?!

Much more here. And here, too. Well worth the read!

– S.

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“The Shipwright” Now Live on Abyss & Apex


Very pleased to see that my pirate-fantasy-with-living-ships story “The Shipwright” is available (for free even!) on Abyss & Apex.

As I mentioned before, this is (I think) the first of many trips I’ll take to the Drowned World. I hope you like it and want to come with me on future voyages…

– S.

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“Saturn in G Minor” Wins 2015 Ictineu Award

I’m very pleased to announce that my story “Saturn in G Minor” has won a 2015 Ictineu Award! What a great way to start the new year.

These awards are given to the best science fiction, fantasy and horror works of fiction published in Catalan during the previous year. “Saturn in G Minor” won for best short fiction translated into Catalan. It appeared in the Catalan-language magazine Catarsi (#15) in November 2014.


My thanks to the editors of Catarsi for taking the story for translation, and special thanks to Clara Boia, the story’s translator–who obviously did a great job!

I confess this comes as a complete shock, as I didn’t know I was even eligible for an award! I gather the award is judged 50% by popular vote and 50% by jury; a really interesting way to award such a prize, and it’s nice to know the story can appeal to both sorts of audiences.

I can’t seem to find a list of all the past winners in English, but I found this one in Catalan. Happily, Google will translate for you! Looks like George RR Martin, Haruki Murakami, Orson Scott Card, Mike Resnick, and Cat Rambo have all won this award, so I figure that’s pretty great company to be in!

An award is on its way in the mail, I’m told. I’ll post photos of it when it arrives.

– S.

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Sale! “The Shipwright” to Abyss & Apex


Pleased to announce that Abyss & Apex have bought by story “The Shipwright.” It should publish sometime in the first half of 2016.

I’m excited to have this story forthcoming, as its one I’m particularly excited about. You might have heard it said (by Hemingway, for one) that an author should know way more back story about the world and the characters than he lets on in the story. Well, that is certainly the case with this one, which started life as 10,000+ words of story plus huge documents of background research on Polynesian cultures, tropical climates, sailing vessels, etc. before getting down to fighting-weight for submission (around 6800 words).

The story itself takes place on what I’m calling (for now) the Drowned World, where the only land is an archipelago of small islands that ring the tropical equator (extending as far north and south on this world as the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn do here on Earth), the result of a cataclysm in the ancient past. The chief means of navigating this broken world were left behind by the departed Ancients: ship-beasts, giant semi-sentient sailing vessels of living flesh and bone.


My inspiration for the ship-beasts came from my betta fish (aka Siamese Fighting Fish), blue whales, and the massive treasure ships of Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He.

1421_armada_grossSo much of this particular iceberg remains under the waterline, as it were, that I have ideas for an entire trilogy that takes place after the events of this story (think of this as the backstory set-up). And then…

Well, I feel like this is my Pern or Discworld: a world I could come back to again and again in stand-alones, an on-going series, sets of trilogies that span generations and the varied geographies and cultures of the Drowned World…

I hope you like it.

– S.


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Is Rejection Good for the Writer’s Soul?


The first story I ever sold was the second-ever story that I sent out to market. I submitted to an anthology invite, was asked for a minor rewrite of the ending (which improved the story), and the editors bought the story–a SFWA qualifying pro sale, in fact.

I had one other story on the market at the time–the first thing I’d ever sent out–and had 8 rejections slips in-hand by the time I made that first sale. I’ve still never sold that first story, having amassed 17 rejections before retiring it from circulation. But I still like it.

I don’t write any of this to brag, but rather in response to a couple of articles I’ve read online in recent days, speaking in defense (and, dare I say ‘praise’?) of rejection.

The first article by Monica Byrne—which I don’t actually take issue with—is her “anti-resume”, an analysis of six-years’ worth of submissions, finding a 3% acceptance rate, which is pretty standard (I’d always heard 2%, so she may actually be ahead of the curve). She submitted to literary journals and magazines, as well as venues more familiar to SF readers (places like Clarkesworld, F&SF, etc,) She has a pretty reasonable view of rejection in the life of a writer, too:

…my anti-resumé reminds me that rejection will always be a part of my career, as in any career, as in anything worth doing. And there are no successful artists I know for whom this isn’t also the case. They love their work. That love buoys them through inevitable and even overwhelming rejection. So I promised myself that, no matter how “The Girl in the Road” was received, I’d start the next book right away. Now I’m 20,000 words in and reminded that just the daily practice of sitting and writing is still the best part. And, like I found that no amount of failure would change that, I hope that no amount of success will, either.

Okay, so no real issue there for me. I went into writing with my eyes open, and I knew there would be a lot of rejection along the way.

Over on English Kills Review, however, Melissa Duclos wrote an article ‘In Defense of Rejection’ in which she cites Monica Byrne as an example of how “Artists need rejection.” Hang on–this is where it gets good:

Every time a writer hears “no”—from a graduate school or a literary journal, an agent or a publisher—she has another opportunity to say “yes.” Does she really want to keep doing this with her life? Yes. Does she really have something interesting to say, that people need to read? Yes. This is not just a matter of endurance, though of course that is part of it.

She makes a number of sweeping generalizations, such as that the rise of self-publishing and the option to skip rejection from editors and publishers all together are “bad news for novels and for writing in general, and even worse for writers.” And again, she says that “Rejection, as maddening as it can be for writers, serves a purpose. Without it, the overall quality of novels on the market has suffered.”

Nowhere in her article, of course, does she substantiate or give any concrete examples to support these claims, nor could she. Taste in literature is completely subjective, after all.

She continues:

A writer who faces rejection—years and years of rejection—will eventually be forced to change, to develop her understanding of form, or her voice, or her handling of characters. She will have to grow in order to break through.


Don’t misunderstand: I’ve had plenty of rejection. After a spate of quick sales early on, I went two long, cold years with nothing but rejection slips…only to make two pro-level sales within days of one another to break the streak. My most rejected story was rejected 21 times, but then published in a major magazine market and I was immediately contacted out of the blue by an editor requesting a reprint. Did that story suck 21 times, only to be suddenly awesome the 22nd time even though I’d made no changes? Had I somehow forgotten how to write fiction for two years?

Of course not.

Rejection is simply a sign you haven’t appealed to a specific editor’s taste, or they don’t feel like they can sell your work to their publishing board or to their readership. And that’s what this is about–taste making and economics.

Which is A) why you shouldn’t take rejection too seriously/hard, and B) why it’s preposterous to claim that rejection is somehow good or necessary for a writer or their development as an artist. It’s just English Lit Department romanticism about the “tortured artist” that perpetuates this myth.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]You don’t need rejection. It’s something you ignore and then carry on writing.[/pullquote]

When Duclos asks whether writers will “choose to be artists striving to make a living, or salespeople, in the business of peddling words?” her misunderstanding of publishing is clear, as is where her sympathies lie: with the romanticized idea of the ‘starving artist.’ This means she’s missed one of the first (and key) points that Byrne made in her article: a desire to make a living from her art.

Artistic idealism is great, but fails to sustain the necessities of life unless coupled with a pay cheque from somewhere. Shakespeare knew this. So did Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. They created great art…which they knew would sell.

You often hear editors say a story or novel wasn’t right for them but then it sells elsewhere. Was there a flaw in the story, or did it just not suit the market? Those are different things. To suggest that rejection will teach something… Will it teach a general lesson, or will it just teach you how best to suit your writing to a specific market. This is the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with trying to write to suit a specific market. I’d like to be published in ASIMOV’S and am working on stories that I think might appeal to Shelia Williams, and by extension her readership. To date, I’ve had some very nice, encouraging rejections from Shelia. But if she rejects my stories does that mean they won’t sell anywhere? That they’re worthless? That I’m worthless?

Of course not. She rejected that story that was rejected 21 times, and it still sold and sold well when it eventually went.

Besides, how much can you really learn from generic rejection slips? Even personalized rejections rarely have more than a cursory explanation, usually of the “it didn’t work for me”, “didn’t fit my needs”, etc. if an editor takes real time to tell you what needs fixing they are usually offering to buy it (or at least take another look at it) if you make that change.

I keep reminding myself of advice I’ve heard from people like Robert J. Sawyer, Nancy Kress, David Farland, and Kevin J. Anderson: persistence pays off. If you stick with this writing thing, if you love and keep at it, after most others have given up and fallen by the wayside you’ll find success.

It’s said that if you get shit on by a bird it’s good luck. I’m pretty sure that’s just something that people who get shit on by birds tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Saying “rejection is good for you” is nothing different. It’s rejection as the hair shirt of literary practice: a self-mortification.[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Saying “rejection is good for you” is nothing different. It’s rejection as the hair shirt of literary practice: a self-mortification.[/pullquote]

I always believed that rejection was unavoidable and necessary…but now I don’t know. The rise of self-publishing has meant that even if no editor feels a story works in their magazine or on their website, an author can release it to the world and see what the real arbiter of taste—the reading public—thinks. Look at (admittedly outlier successes) like The Martian, a book that no traditional publisher would publish for a host of reasons. I read it—it was a lot of fun, and a huge success book in print and on film.

Is there also a lot of self-published crap? Yes, of course. 90% of everything is crap, including from traditional publishing venues.

All this smacks to me of snobbery, the defense of some kind of platonic ideal of what it means to write and receive rejection and praise. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Mark Twain all wrote for money and for popular audiences. Those who wrote for some kind of elite audience are forgotten or remembered only in academic circles, where someone needs to find a thesis topic.

Forgotten authors make for good ones.

– S.

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Cover Reveal!: CAPED Now Available for Pre-Order

Look! Up on the bookshelf! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…the cover for Caped, the new anthology of superhero fiction in which my story “Super Frenemies” appears!

In what is surely the fastest acceptance-to-finished-book turnaround I’ve experienced in publishing, the book is not only available NOW for pre-order, but will be released in print and ebook format on Tuesday, Nov. 24th. You can find the ebook through your preferred vendor, and the print book will be available via Amazon.

The only regret I have about the project is that they didn’t want an author photo. I had the perfect one ready to go…

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Superhero…

– S.

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UFO Detection and Tracking

From the ‘long-shot’ file this morning…

A volunteer group of scientists and academics from around the world (about 15 scientists, engineers, astronomers, professors, and a journalist) has launched a new effort called UFODATA (for ‘UFO Detection and Tracking’), to apply rigorous scientific research and methods to the study of UFOs–an area of study that has been confined to the margins (at best) of the traditional scientific community.

They plan to install a series of automated surveillance stations loaded with scientific research tools at various locations in known UFO hotspots such as those in the western United States and in Hessdalen, Norway. The sensors that the group hopes to build will include several high-resolution spectrographic cameras, a magnetometer, a Geiger counter, and a weather station. Each one will cost between $10,000 and $20,000, the group says, which they’re hoping to raise through crowdfunding and other donations.

The group says more reliable and scientific data will not only advance understanding of UFOs, but might also serve to persuade the public at large that this issue merits more serious examination.

While its a noble endeavour, one wonders whether its doomed to failure. Even if there ARE alien craft visiting the planet (which is a big ‘if’), if you can overcome the vast hurdles to meaningful interstellar travel, would you not have devised a way to avoid detection by the indigenous fauna? I mean, human science has apparently already cracked the invisibility cloak–surely some alien has come up with a cloaking device, right?

– S.

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Fukushima and the World Without Us

Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski–whose made a career of photographing abandoned and forgotten places–travelled to the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in September and has released a selection of images he captured within the 20km (12.5 mile) Exclusion Zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

They are, to say the least, breath-taking. They are like a photo essay from the end of the world.

The images reminded me of the book The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman: a non-fiction thought-experiment about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared. Weisman details how our cities and houses would deteriorate (they’ll be forests within 500 years), how long man-made artifacts would last (hint: a really long time), and how remaining lifeforms would evolve without us around.

Weisman concludes that radioactive waste (along with bronze statues, plastics, and Mount Rushmore) would be among the longest-lasting evidence of human presence on Earth. Indeed, without human monitoring and intervention within weeks the world’s nuclear plants (over four hundred of them) would all melt down, while our petrochemical plants would erupt in flame, spewing poisonous clouds for decades to come. All the while, the world would slowly become wilderness again, with carbon dioxide levels returning to prehuman levels after the geological eyeblink of a mere 100,000 years.

If we could send back photos from the World Without Us, well, I rather suspect they’d look a lot like the photos from Fukushima.

– S.

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Who You Gonna Call?: Ghost Hunting In Norway

“We’re ready to believe YOU!”

In honour of Halloween (and since my family and I are going as the Ghostbusters this year) a quirky story from The Grey Lady herself: Norway has a ghost problem.

The article from last Sunday’s paper recounts the story of Marianne Haaland Bogdanoff, a travel agency manager, who apparently had a spook stuck in her office. Accorrding to the Times:

…when “weird things” — inexplicable computer breakdowns, strange smells and noises and complaints from staff members of constant headaches — started happening at the ground-floor travel office, she slowly began to put aside her deep skepticism about life beyond the here and now. After computer experts, electricians and a plumber all failed to find the cause of her office’s troubles, she finally got help from a clairvoyant who claimed powers to communicate with the dead. The headaches and other problems all vanished.

“I’m usually very psychic–I’m worried something terrible is going to happen to you.”

While attendance at traditional churches in Norway has dropped off precipitously in recent decades, according to opinion polls belief in, or at least fascination with, ghosts and spirits is surging in that country.

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion.

Check out the full article–really interesting stuff (including the ghost of the dead Nazi who keeps messing with the tourism brochures…)

Happy Halloween!

– S.

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